Memo to the NHL: Shootouts are still a problem

Last offseason, officials from the National Hockey League met to discuss possible ways to limit the number of contests decided by a shootout. Shootouts, while entertaining, can have a disproportionately large effect on league standings, given that, by and large, these outcomes are random.

One of the minor ‘tweaks‘ to the former rules was that for the 2014-2015 season, overtime sessions would mimic the second-period in that teams would be forced to make longer line changes during overtime. The longer line changes, in principal, would create more scoring opportunities during the overtime session, which would thus limit the number of games that eventually ended in a shootout.

Some solid math supported this idea, too. Rink Stats‘ Stephen Pettigrew, for example, used differences in scoring rates from the first and second periods to estimate that around 35% fewer games would reach the shootout, comparing overtime rules with the longer line-change to the shorter line-change. That would be a massive reduction, and one that most hockey fans would be happy to see.

Alas, not much has changed during the 2014-15 season, despite the rule change. Overall, roughly 14% of NHL games have been decided by a shooutout this year, which is similar to past years.

Here are the overall percentages of games that have reached a shootout, by season:

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Next, among OT games, here are the percentages of games that reached a shootout.

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Again, pretty similar rates to previous year.  Just more than half (56%) of games reaching OT have subsequently reached a shootout in 2015, which is just a slight tick below the average rate from 2006 through 2014 (57%).

If the league wants to limit the effect of the shootout on league standings, the change is simple – prevent teams from wanting to get to overtime in the first place. Create an incentive for teams to win in regulation – like, say, a three point rule – and they’ll stop playing overtime so often. More on this to follow, but feel free to read more in this article here.

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